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BHP lawsuit (re Papua New Guinea)

In 1994, Papua-New Guinean landowners sued BHP in Australia, alleging BHP's operations at a copper mine caused the destruction of the surrounding environment and of their traditional lifestyle. In 2013, the Australian Parliament removed BHP's immunity from suit and in 2014 the Court ordered BHP to stop dumping mine waste into nearby rivers.


In 1994, Papua-New Guinean (PNG) landowners sued BHP in the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia alleging that BHP’s operations at the Ok Tedi copper mine caused destruction of the surrounding environment and of their traditional lifestyle.  The plaintiffs alleged that BHP dumped mine tailings waste into the Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers.  In 1996, BHP and the plaintiffs reached an out-of-court settlement which included payment of approximately AUS$40 million in financial compensation as well as the dredging of tailings from the rivers in an attempt to limit further damage.  In 2000, the plaintiffs sued BHP in Australia again, for breaching the terms of the 1996 settlement related to environmental mitigation at the mine.  In February 2002, BHP Billiton (BHP merged with Billiton in 2001) withdrew from the Ok Tedi mine, transferring its 52% equity stake to the Papua New Guinea Sustainable Development Program Limited.  At the same time, BHP Billiton signed Mine Continuation Agreements with most local clans or landowning groups.  These agreements signified that the local groups consented to the continuation of mining activity at Ok Tedi, and they agreed to discharge and release BHP Billiton from any liability related to the Ok Tedi mine.

In January 2007, landowner groups from the Ningerum indigenous people filed suit in PNG National Court against BHP Billiton and the operators of the Ok Tedi copper mine for civil damages exceeding US$4 billion.  The plaintiff groups in this case had not signed Mine Continuation Agreements.  BHP Billiton and the other defendants have applied to the court to have the proceedings struck.  In September 2013 the Parliament passed a law removing BHP Billiton’s immunity with regards to environmental claims.  In January 2014 a court ordered Oki Tedi Mining to stop dumping mine waste and tailings into rivers.

- "PNG court orders Ok Tedi to halt dumping waste", Liam Cochrane, Australia Plus, 27 Jan 2014
- “PNG villagers sue BHP, Ok Tedi miners”, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Jan 2007
- “Litigating Ok Tedi (Again)”, Stuart Kirsch, Cultural Survival Quarterly, 31 Aug 2002
- “Legal action starts over Ok Tedi mine”, Asia Pulse, 12 Apr 2000
- “In a Fouled Jungle, Tribes Win One”, Kevin Murphy, New York Times, 12 Jun 1996
- [PDF]“Acting globally: Eco-politics in Papua New Guinea”, Stuart Kirsch, Journal of the International Institute [USA], vol. 3, no. 3, Summer 1996

- BHP Billiton: Environmental Incidents And Fines, 2007 [scroll down to “Former Operations – Ok Tedi Mining Limited”]
- BHP Billiton: Court Dismisses Ok Tedi Proceedings, 16 Jan 2004
- BHP Billiton: BHP Billiton Withdraws from Ok Tedi Copper Mine and Establishes Development Fund for Benefit of Papua New Guinea People, 8 Feb 2002
- BHP Billiton: Legal Action on Ok Tedi Misconceived: BHP, 11 Apr 2000
- Ok Tedi Mining: Community Mine Continuation Agreements
- Mineral Policy Institute: Cracks in the Facade of BHP's exit from Ok Tedi Mining Disaster Appear, 22 Jan 2007

-[PDF] Court order [asking Oki Tedi Mining to restrain from dumping mine waste & tailings into rivers], National Court of Justice at Waigani (Papua New Guinea), 24 Jan 2014

Judgments of Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia:

21 December 2001, granting injunction to enforce June 1996 settlement
- [PDF] 20 September 1995
- [PDF] 8 November 1994

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31 December 2001

The Big Ugly at Ok Tedi

Author: Bob Burton, editor of Mining Monitor, in Multinational Monitor

In an extraordinary move, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government has passed legislation that prevents any government agency from taking or supporting "in any way" proceedings against the mining multinational BHP-Billiton "in respect of an environmental claim" over damage caused by the Ok Tedi mine.

🚫Read the full post here

11 December 2001

Outrage At Png Attempt To Give BHP A Royal Farewell [Papua New Guinea]

Author: Mineral Policy Institute and PNG NGO Environmental Watch Group

After permitting the company to dump 80,000 tonnes of waste a day into the Fly and Ok Tedi river system since 1984 BHP has now been given a final gift from the PNG National Government - an unrestricted legal indemnity for all the pollution and destruction it has already caused and will occur in the future as result of the continuing operation of its Ok Tedi mine. It has precipitated an unprecedented constitutional challenge by former PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare.

🚫Read the full post here

27 August 2001

Victoria court sets path for PNG Ok Tedi lawsuit [Australia]

Author: Reuters

The Supreme Court of Victoria [Australia] yesterday gave Papua New Guinea landowners until January 7 to decide if they would participate in a class action surrounding the controversial Ok Tedi copper mine. The court said the class action should be advertised in PNG newspapers, on radio and at public meetings, with the onus on landowners to opt-out if they do not want to participate in the class action. Landowners won a settlement against Ok Ted Mining Ltd in 1996 for environmental damage caused by tailings from the mine. But they launched a new case in April last year arguing that OTML and BHP Ltd, now BHP Billiton Ltd/Plc had not lived up to promises to find a safer way of disposing of mine tailings.

🚫Read the full post here

27 June 2001

PNG landowners demand Australia fund mine clean-up

Author: Gary Cox, Reuters

Landowners in Papua New Guinea called on Australia yesterday to pay the bill for what they called environmental destruction caused by BHP's Ok Tedi copper mine if the company walked away without cleaning up

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11 June 2000

500 PNG clans join Ok Tedi suit against BHP

Author: Barry Fitzgerald, Sydney Morning Herald

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11 April 2000

Writ lodged over BHP Ok Tedi mine [Papua New Guinea]

Author: Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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10 April 2000

comments by advocates for plaintiffs: Ok Tedi 2 [lawsuit against BHP; Papua New Guinea]

Author: Slater and Gordon, solicitors for plaintiffs

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1 April 2000

BHP's Big Mining Mess [Papua New Guinea]

Author: Danny Kennedy, Multinational Monitor

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6 March 2000

World Bank echoes calls for Ok Tedi closure

Author: Mineral Policy Institute

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31 December 1999

World Bank - Full Ok Tedi Report

Author: World Bank

Read the full post here